Friday, July 12, 2019

Walk on By

This week the children had encounters with two bigtime Bible stories.  The whole Bible is important and we should have a hunger to read it again and again, but this week amidst everything else happening in outer space, the kids made a visit to the lion’s den and saw the faith of Daniel and how God showed himself as the one true God in a pagan world.

We also had the story of the Good Samaritan, which would have been an oxymoron in the time in which Jesus told it.  Good and Samaritan would have never been used in the same sentence.

The Samaritans were considered a lesser sort of people by the Jews who had not intermixed with their conquerors.  If you had to say the word Samaritan, then you had better spit after you said it so folks knew your disdain for them.

This is more than horns up or down come October in Oklahoma and Texas.  Realize that these two fingers up or down is something of an improvement over when I was young.  A single finger did all of the talking for both sides back then. This Samaritan stuff is genuine disgust and hatred and some holier-than-thou attitudes mixed in. 

So an expert in the law—a Pharisee or a Scribe or a Rabbi of some acclaim—wanted to test Jesus.  By test, we generally believe that he wanted to be the one guy who bested Jesus.  If he could just catch him misquoting Isaiah or getting the days of creation in the wrong order or anything slightly off kilter, then he would make a real name for himself.

He could be the one who bested Jesus.  Think old west gun fighters.  There’s always some young gun who rides into town looking to make a name for himself.

So this expert asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus replied:  What does the law say?

The expert replied:  Love God with everything you have—heart, soul, mind, strength.  And to love your neighbor as yourself.  I would think that this expert was glad that Jesus asked him to answer his own question.  He go to show off a little.

Jesus told him to do this and he would live.  Elsewhere Jesus would note that all of the law and the prophets were anchored in these two commandments. 

But in this encounter, Jesus just tells him to obey these two simple commands and he would live.  One of those commands was love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.

The expert not content with just getting the correct answer to his own question, ventures a little farther, to an area where his expertise might have been more speculative than authoritative, and he asks:  “Well just who is my neighbor?”

I’m sure that this had been a matter of some discussion among the many teachers and experts of the law.  Searching the finer points of the law at the expense of its goodness was common practice among the self-righteous.  Surely this question did not have a definitive answer and would stump Jesus.

So Jesus tells a story.

A man who was not named was on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho.  This was a stretch of road of something less than 20 miles that was known for its perils.  This lone individual was ambushed, beaten, robbed, and left for dead.

He probably thought that this is where his life would come to an end, but then a priest was also traveling along the same road.  Perhaps the man got his hopes up for a moment, but only for a moment for the priest walked on the other side of the road and passed the man by.

The priest surely had duties that required his attention and didn’t have time for checking on a man who would probably die shortly anyway.

So much for any help from this man of God.

Some time later a Levite came by.  Was he on his way to duty in the temple or on his way home following his temple tour?  We don’t know.

Did the man who was left for dead have a glimmer of hope?  We don’t know.

What we do know is that the Levite like the priest passed this man in need of help without stopping.  Like the man of God before him, he passed on the other side of the road.  Perhaps he thought there was a reason that justified this.  If he was on his way to the temple, how could he stop and check on this man, especially if he was dead.

There would surely be some ritual cleansings involved if that were the case.

In any case the man left for dead had gone 0 for 2. 

Then a Samaritan man came along.  The Samaritan saw the man and had mercy on him.  He cleaned and bandaged his wounds with what he had—mostly wine and oil.  Then he put him on his own donkey and took him into town.

He found an inn, got the wounded man a room, tended to him some more, paid the innkeeper and told him that the wounded man could run a tab.  If he needed something that wasn’t already paid for, the Samaritan would make good when he returned.

This Samaritan obviously had some means and status.  You don’t just let anyone open a charge account with your establishment.  He couldn’t run his credit card for incidentals.

So at the end of this story, Jesus asked the expert, who do you think was a neighbor to the man left for dead?

The expert in the law unwilling to say the Samaritan, said the one who showed him mercy, who just happened to be the Samaritan.

So the expert asked who is my neighbor and Jesus answered with a story that said be a neighbor.

It’s the story of the good Samaritan.  Everyone has heard it.  Good Samaritan is a term that we all know and it doesn’t seem like an oxymoron to us today. 

Some states have Good Samaritan laws where those who help someone on the side of the road are not at risk from being prosecuted for helping without being a doctor or medic.  Negligence still applies but not to the same standard as for a medical professional.

But we live in Oklahoma.  Of course, we are going to stop and help.  If your traveling with your family, your risk tolerance might be different, but I can say with much certainty that most men traveling alone will stop and help someone on the side of the road who looks like they are in trouble.

That’s Oklahoma.  Besides, you just don’t see a lot of people robbed on the roads out in these parts.  If someone tries to rob you with their 38 special, they might encounter your 357 extra special or two barrels of a shotgun.  You just don’t see people getting robbed between here and Elk City.

Broken down vehicles, hitchhikers, and the occasional person claiming to be homeless and needing help pop up on our radar every now and then, but we are not talking about discerning between a panhandler and legitimate need this morning.

We are talking about who is my neighbor.  So does this pericope have any bearing on our modern day lives?  What does this story of the Good Samaritan say to us?

Suppose that you are walking through town on your way to Rudy’s or Gret’s and there is a person that you don’t know up ahead watering their rose bushes with the hose, what do you do?

Well, surely, they have a place to live and care enough for it to water their plants, so what is there to do?

Do they have the gospel of life in Jesus Christ?

Have they received the good news?

Just by looking at someone with a garden hose it’s really hard to tell.

We could just keep on waking, making sure to pass on the other side and wave from a safe distance.  There is some risk here when you talk to someone with a garden hose at the ready.

Would we look straight ahead and keep on walking on the other side of the street so as not to risk a conversation.

We could respect that person’s privacy.  Some people just want to be left alone.  They enjoy their solitude and the peace that comes with water flowing from a hose.

But if that person has not received Christ as Lord, he or she has been left for dead.  He has been left for dead.

But surely God wouldn’t let that happen, would he?  No.  He sent you.

In our day and time it is much more likely that we will encounter someone in our travels who is dead already because they have not believed in Jesus than it is to find someone beaten to near death and left on  the side of the road.

So what do we do?  Do we walk on by because our destination is more important than this poor soul on the side of the road?  Do we walk by on the other side so we don’t have to risk an encounter, or will we be more like the Samaritan?

For everyone here who has received Jesus as Lord, we look forward to coming before him at some point after we have left these earthen vessels.  We don’t fear being condemned for our sins.  The blood of Jesus took them away, but we do expect to give an account for our lives after we were saved.
I have preached the parable of the talents many times and in the course of those homilies usually come to the question that is never asked but always answered.  We are sure that we will answer Jesus whether he has to ask the question or not.

What did you do with what I gave you?

There might be another question.  We will all give an account before God.  What is it that we will account for?  How about this as we stand before Jesus.

Where are all the people that I sent you to bring to me?

That’s not fair.  Come on now, I made hot dogs and peanut butter sandwiches for hundreds of kids.  There is surely a jewel in your crown for that.

I tithed faithfully even during some hard times.  There were surely some blessings in this life and more jewels for your crown in the one to come.
I sang all of the hymns every Sunday and even got most of the words right.  That’s got to be a really shiny jewel right there.

I wore my GOD LOVES YOU – LOVE ONE ANOTHER wristband at least once a week.  That surely has to count for something.  Was that not me being the light of the world?

I drove a van full of kids more times that you can count.  I’m sure that heaven is going to have to open the vault to give you your rewards for that one.

I know what it is to be VBS tired for the Lord!  That’s got to count for something.

But, but, but…how will we answer this question whether it is asked or not?

Where are all the people that I sent you to bring to me?

Will I have to say, “Well, I walked by them on the other side of the road?”

As this the second decade of this new century comes near its end, we are unlikely to encounter someone beaten and left for dead on the side of the road, but we are very likely to see hundreds of people every week who have been left for dead because they have not received Jesus Christ as Lord.
Surely, God will not leave them in that state.  He desires that none perish and all come to repentance and saving grace.  That is his heart’s desire.

Surely, he will send someone to them with the good news of life in Jesus Christ.

The expert in the law asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor.”  He wanted to wiggle out of any obligation to deal with people not already in his circle.  Surely God would not require him to venture out of his comfort zone.
Jesus told him to be a neighbor.

We consider all of the people that we know who have not received Jesus as Lord and ask, “Who will bring the good news to them?”

I hope that we hear ever so clearly, Jesus calling to us:  “I sent you .”

I hope that we hear him say: “I commissioned you.”

I hope that we have eyes to see that those without Jesus have been left for dead. 

I hope that we take the example of the Good Samaritan and don’t just throw a card and a wristband at someone, or just leave them with a gospel and a gruff charge to read it for your own good.

I hope that we share what Jesus has meant to us and help someone receive Jesus as Lord.  The Good Samaritan was obviously a man of some means.  He had oil and wine, a donkey, and money to pay the innkeeper.

We have some substantial means as well.  We travel the roads of this life with the Holy Spirit.  We have what we need to help those who have been left for dead.

We can be a good neighbor.  We can fulfill our commission.  We can help people who are dead in their sin come to life in Christ.

We can do this.  Let’s be a neighbor to those who need our help the most.  Be a neighbor to those who are dead in their sin.  We have more than oil, wine, and a donkey.  We have the Holy Spirit and good news.
Be a neighbor.


Saturday, July 6, 2019

Rejoice in Hope!

We are just spending a little time on hope as it is so intertwined with love and faith, in both of which we have invested much time. 

Here is a provocation that I want you to think upon this morning and this week.  If God sacrificed his own Son for us while we were his enemies, how much more does he have in store for us now that we are reconciled to him?

Seldom will one person sacrifice their life for another.  I have known a culture—many would call it a cult—where that’s a way of life.  In that culture, Marines have no intention of sacrificing their lives for their enemies, but do so for their buddies often without a second thought.
So it happens.  People sacrifice their lives for someone they care about.  But for their enemies?  That’s another story.

But Paul said:

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.

While we were still powerless, helpless, without hope of getting right with God on our own, Christ died for us.  Jesus, who by his very nature is God, stepped out of heaven, humbled himself as a servant, lived a life without sin, and went to the cross as a Lamb without blemish.

For whom?  He did it for people who did not love him.  He did it for us.  Now, we say that we love him now, but humankind was in a very sorry state of affairs when Christ died for us.

Who are we that he died for us?  The answer is that we are those who God made for relationship with him.  In spite of our rebellion, he made a way for us to come home.

Despite our hearts that turn to the world over God again and again, God does not give up on us and does the things that we are powerless to do.

We have been justified by our faith.  That sounds a lot like a man you have read about called Abraham.  God chose Abraham and told him that he would be the father of many nations.  He did this when Abraham was already old and every year that went by made the possibility of he and Sarah—the were Abram and Sarai at the time—less and less likely.

But God does what only God can do and God fulfilled his promises to Abraham.

He was the father of many nations.  Through his seed came Jesus Christ and the way to bless and redeem the entire world.  Land promised to his decedents was delivered.  Enemies crumbled or ran before these sons of Abraham.

Abraham could accomplish none of this on his own, but he could have and did have faith. 

We can’t make ourselves right with God but we can have and I believe most here do have faith.  In that faith we receive grace and we have peace with God.

Because of what God has done for us through Christ, we have hope.  We can boast in and celebrate the glory of God.  God did this for us!

Do we get that?  Really, do we comprehend what God has done for us?

He didn’t just say, “Let there be people.  Good luck, guys.  See you at the judgment.”

When we as humankind had strayed so far away from God that we were classified as his enemies, God spilled his own blood to save us.  God made the sacrifice for us.

Look at the religions of the world some time.  Do your best to find one where their god or Buddha or state of Nirvana does anything like that for you. 

Let me know when you find one.  I won’t be holding my breath.

Only the one true God loved us while we were his enemies.  He loved us so much that he made us right with him.  While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  He loves us today.  He loves us with an everlasting love.

None of this is breaking news to anyone here.  We know the story.  We sing the story.  We share the story of God’s love.

So what does this have to do with hope? 

Jesus did not go to the cross because people were getting better, but because they were not.  While we were as far from God as we can get in this life, he brought us home.  He did it.

Now that we are reconciled to him, do we think that he will ever stop loving us?  Do you think he will ever give up on us?  If he loved us enough to die for us when we were his enemies, how much more is our assurance of his love now that he has reconciled us to him?  We are now a friend of God, a brother or sister to Christ, and living in the favor of God.

But we still have suffering.  We still have trials.  Life didn’t suddenly get extra easy when we professed our faith.  Consider Paul’s words on this subject once again.

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

And hope does not disappoint!

Hope does not put us to shame because we realize how much God has demonstrated his love for us.  We rejoice in our hope.

When we realize just how much God loves us, we cannot avoid being people of hope.  We rejoice in our hope.

Hope does not disappoint.